Indian Railways is one of the world’s largest rail networks comprising 115,000km of track over a route of 65,000km with over 7,500 stations. This massive network carries over 25 million passengers daily connecting the length and breath of the country. With an institution that is the largest employer in the world, it is also a mammoth task in keeping the immense length of tracks and stations clean.
The need to improve cleanliness and sanitation has given rise to the idea of creating a machine that not only clears dry waste like plastics, bottles etc. but also the night soil on the tracks. The machine being considered is a wet and dry heavy duty vacuum cleaner that can suck the garbage from the tracks and store it in different containers. This kind of initiative was earlier taken by the Central Railways but it could not be developed further. But this time around the commitment to developing the machine is strong with plans on either sourcing it from outside or to research and work on it within the railways itself.
The track cleaning machines will be developed on the lines of the ones presently used for sweeping the roads. These kinds of machines are already in work in different places across the globe like the Europe and the US. According to the Director – Traffic Commercial, Railway Board, S.K. Ahirwar, “The technology to develop these machines already exists in the country; the only thing lacking is the need to integrate it in such a manner that it tackles the main challenge of keeping the tracks free of solid and semi-solid waste. Once it is developed it will also help in combating the nuisance of rodents and weeds on the tracks thus, improving the sanitation and also the safety of the tracks.”
There are thoughts of using old tower wagons to mount the vacuum cleaners on and by making necessary modifications rendering them fit for use. Tower wagon is essentially a small four wheeler vehicle that is half the length of a coach and is used for a variety of purposes in the railways, maintenance of over head wires being one of its main uses. The advantages of using the tower wagon is that, it conforms to the railways standards, it is of the adequate size and being a self propelled vehicle, it will reduce the burden of labour. “The availability, the conformity, the size, the self propelling capability and above all ingeniously manufacturing makes the tower wagon an attractive choice while planning the track cleaning machines” says Ahirwar. At present only the Railways requires this machine and the onus of developing also lies with them.
The cleaning of the railway tracks is carried both manually and by using cleaning machines. The garbage on the tracks is picked up manually and excessive dirt, oil and other foreign materials are effectively cleaned with high pressure Jet Cleaners, making the tracks safer and more durable.
The job of making the rail tracks garbage free does not end with just the collection of the waste. Ahirwar feels that the garbage collected, especially the dry waste, will not just be dumped in the landfill, but it will also be put in the incinerators or will be handed over to the municipal corporations for proper treatment and disposal. The wet waste however can be used in bio gas plant.
The cleaning machines once in operations will initially be deployed in main junctions and stations with more than ten lines and having six or seven platforms facing heavy traffic. They will also be used in terminals having a large number of originating trains. The success of the machines will determine their usage on a wider scale. The deployment of the machines may take some time, considering that the Railways is still considering the modes of developing the machine.